Just as there are multiple ways to catch fish, there are numerous ways to hunt large game. Some hunters prefer to wander in the woods, still hunting and using stealth and tracking skills. There is no doubt that stalking game is both an exhilarating and rewarding way to hunt big game. Yet not all hunters have access to large tracts of land and, when pursuing whitetail deer in particular, the hunt may be in semi-rural or farming areas where wandering over land is not possible. This is when hunters often turn to either a treestand or a ground blind. Here is a look at the positives and negatives of each technique.
Back in the day, a treestand could be just about anything that allowed a hunter to sit in a tree and wait for animals to appear. These stands were often homemade, and not always the safest. Thinking back on some of the early homemade treestands I sat in, it is amazing that nothing terrible happened. A couple of 2x4s nailed into the notch of a poplar is not the safest thing to stand on. We often climbed to these stands using foot holds that screwed into the tree trunk. Negotiating those foot holds with large, muddy boots was scary at best.
The past couple of decades has seen a huge improvement in the safety and design of tree stands and how you can access them. Some folks still construct their own, but generally these are sturdier and more comfortable as well. Some large treestands are basically enclosed cabins on stilts. These may be the height of comfort, but they are not portable. These types of set ups should be reserved for private land.
The treestands I prefer have a built-in ladder with enough width that you can safely climb up and down comfortably with a pack and large boots. Firearms should always be lifted (unloaded) to the stand by way of a rope. The stand itself is generally a two-seater, as this allows you to either have another hunter with you, or a place to put your pack, etc. There are treestands that are much smaller, and stands that are “climbers,” which allows the hunter to shimmy up a tree.
I prefer to hang a ladder stand and make sure it’s ultra-sturdy. Hanging a stand often takes more than one person, especially if it is a large stand. A ladder stand needs to be held steady at the base as it is hung and attached. A treestand should also have a safety strap included, which you should always wear when in a stand. I also like to see a safety bar that wraps around the front of a stand.
As a journalist, I’ve covered too many stories of hunters who fell out of treestands for a wide variety of reasons. The lucky ones get to tell the story. Every year, many hunters across Canada and the U.S. fall out of stands. Treestand falls are an alarmingly high cause of death or injury when hunting.
A 2016 study out of Wisconsin that looked at hunter falls from tree stands came to this sobering conclusion. If you hunted from a tree stand for only one year, your odds of a serious stand accident are one out of 1,010 hunters. If you hunt for 10 years, your odds go up to one of 100. Hunt 20 years with both a bow and/or a gun from a stand and your chances of falling are one in 50. The bottom line is you need to wear your safety strap and be very mindful that you are well off the ground. Tree stands can be remarkably effective for hunting, as you have a high view of a hunting area. Big game animals rarely look for danger from above. Just be extremely careful. Also, dress warmly. There is no place colder than a treestand on a chilly, windy November day.
The other side of the sit and wait hunting game is the ground blind. Unlike the treestand, the ground blind stays put on the earth. So, the threat of falling is gone. For older hunters, or people who lack good balance, this is a serious consideration. Yet ground blinds are also remarkably effective hunting tools. Most ground blinds are pop up or dome style tents. While they have portals for shooting out of, the average ground blind is mostly enclosed, which cuts down on the transmission of odors that may alert game to your presence.
Ground blinds can be used in places where hanging a tree stand is not an option, such as in farm country or in swamps. One of the best reasons to use a ground blind is because in colder weather, a tent will block the wind and can even house a small, portable heater. Propane buddy heaters will take the edge off, but there should be good ventilation. With an open shooting window or two, that usually solves the aeration problem.
Ground blinds are also portable and can be set up and taken down relatively quickly. If you are a fidgety person, ground blinds will shield your movements from the ultra-keen eyes of a buck, bear or bull moose.
The downside of ground blinds is that a strong wind can blow them away, trees or branches can fall on them (and potentially you), and snow can collapse them, breaking the support arms. I’ve had black bears tear ground blinds apart and they’ve even eaten parts of them. So, there are various risks when using a ground blind. However, in the big picture, ground blinds are quite safe, effective and relatively inexpensive.
It should be noted, that in some places, there are regulations around where you can and can’t use ground blinds or treestands. So, always check your local regulation and bylaws. Be careful out there and have a safe hunting season.